USF's Museum Blog

Designing Innovation for Museums

By Emily Lawhead (MA 2017)

How can museums effectively facilitate problem-solving, creativity, and innovation – both within their gallery spaces and in their programs? Dana Mitroff Silvers, founder of Designing Insights, has developed custom workshops and trainings in Design Thinking to answer this question. The Design Thinking process emphasizes learning by doing, and assists museums and companies in developing their best visitor experience. On April 25th, the USF Museum Studies Graduate Association invited Mitroff Silvers to conduct a Design Thinking Workshop with the program’s cohort, faculty, and staff.

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USF students and faculty share ideas on their ideal museum experience

Design Thinking “helps teams approach problems with the end-user in mind. It involves developing empathy for customers, discovering opportunities, generated user-centered solutions, and building and testing rapid prototypes” (  Dana Mitroff Silvers is the former Head of Online Services at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and is the founder and director of Designing Insights LLC. She runs the resource site Design Thinking for Museums, and has worked with the Getty Research Institute, the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, Balboa Park, the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Contemporary Jewish Museum, and more on this hands-on process.


Dana Mitroff Silvers

The USF Museum Studies program experienced an immersive, tip-of-the-iceberg workshop in Design Thinking by creating an inclusive and welcoming museum visitor experience through the eyes of a colleague.  Working in pairs, the group engaged in timed exercises using sharpie pens and paper to empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test ideas. Each member of the workshop was encouraged to immerse themselves in their partner’s ideal museum experience, and try to fully discover their needs and dreams. These ranged from creating a dog-friendly, seaside sculpture park, to an after-hours yoga class held in a room full of abstract paintings, to intimate “coffee talks” with curators! With these insights, hands-on crafting of prototypes allowed for evaluation on an idea-driven basis.

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Nell Herbert (MA 2015, Thacher Gallery Manager) and Emily Lawhead (MA 2017, author)

Not only was the afternoon illuminating to the different ways in which people best engage with museums, but it also allowed the USF community to take an innovative approach to visitor experience. Workshop participants were able to spin creativity in a way that there are “no wrong answers,” and “all ideas are good ideas.” This provides some of the tools for thinking in a creative mindset to tackle solutions in the museum field.

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Niki Schmidt (MA 2017)

Thank you to the USF Museum Studies Graduate Association – Emily Lawhead, President; Sarin Cemcem, Vice President; Lydia Webster, Secretary; and Niki Schmidt, Treasurer – for inviting Dana Mitroff Silvers and organizing the event. Stay tuned for information regarding the upcoming MSGA Fall Speaker Series!

For more information on USF’s Museum Studies MA Program, click here.

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Lydia Webster, Lauren Riera, Kristin Wight (left to right) and other members of the Class of 2017.


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